Life as Amber knows it

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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Re~Post: “A Good~Bye To My Father.”

It’s been one year since we lost my father. On the anniversary of his death, I’ve chosen to repost the eulogy I gave at his funeral to honor him. 

On July 21, 2014, just one week after his seventy-second birthday, my father, Donald E. Jerome, “Paw-Paw”, “Uncle Gene” passed away peacefully in his sleep.

My brother and I spent the last few days of our father’s life with him, hoping he’d bounce back as he so easily did in the past. But after many years of physical pain, many years of his body struggling, he went home to heaven.

I met with a friend this week to talk about my father’s death. And while dad and I have had our share of arguments and disagreements over the years, still, at the end, everything was at peace between us. Any words needing to be said were said. And Dad, despite being so weak he could hardly speak, true to his nature of making sure his loved ones were taken care of, ordered me to make sure I ate something. And I, his daughter in every way and true to my nature told him I’d eat when he’d finally rest and get much needed sleep. Naturally, Dad countered that he’d sleep when I’d go get myself something to eat.

And so, like we’d done so many times in my adult life, my final conversation with my father was a spirited debate with a twinkle in his eyes and his lips curved into that gentle smile I’ll miss terribly.

He passed away peacefully in his sleep eight hours later.

In the coming months, I’m sure I’ll recount stories of my father. For now, I’m writing this the day before his funeral, in a rare quiet moment after having put the final touches on his Eulogy. This post is being scheduled to release an hour after his funeral tomorrow. I don’t know how you write an Eulogy, all I know is how I felt about my father and what he taught me about life, and I wanted to honor him as best as I could. It’s near impossible to truly sum up such a generous and compassionate individual with mere words.

I love you Dad. Thank you for all you taught me about life, either with your words or your actions. Thank you for all the times you put what was best for me above your feelings. Thank you for teaching me how to be a parent, for teaching me how to work for what I want, for teaching me that there is no greater gift than that of unconditional love, and that what truly matters in this world has no monetary value. I was blessed on the day God saw fit to place me in your family as your daughter when I was given up for adoption.

I found myself struggling to write this. And that’s comical considering what I do for a living. At one point this week, it made sense to my grief stricken mind that maybe there’s someone more qualified than I to write my father’s eulogy; maybe there’s someone who can find the right words to define a man who has meant so much to so many people. So I thought of not writing the eulogy. I thought of asking someone else to do it for me. And certainly, no one would blame me, because I’ve just lost my father. I wanted to just not do it, to just give up.

And then my mind drifted to when I was a child, particularly to Saturday mornings. I’d get up, get a bowl of cereal, and if Dad was going to his office, he’d ask me if I wanted to go with him. And of course I did. They had a break room with cookies in it, and I could always sneak down and get a few. And Dad’s office had this photo cube that was a radio as well. And even better, devoid of people as it was on Saturday mornings, it echoed. To a child, making noise, especially echoey noise, was almost as awesome as being told breakfast was going to be cake and lunch was going to be ice cream.

And in my father’s office there was a plaque. And on that plaque there was a very famous quote: “Never, never, never give up” by Sir Winston Churchill, a distant relative.

Dad lived his life by those words. Dad taught his daughter the very meaning of those words by his every action in his life. And so, I sent an email to my editor whining about  not being able to do it, took a deep breath, and began to just write.

I could stand here today and tell you when Dad was born and when he died. I can tell you where he went to college, and what he did as a career. But those few little facts? They in no way encompass who he was as a person. They in no way tell the story of a man who defined himself not by the amount of his bank account but by the wealth of his soul.

Dad always helped those in need: he was a big supporter of several charities, he gave his time as a Eucharistic minister visiting those unable to receive the Eucharist as well as helping those less fortunate through his work through Love Truck and the Samaritan Inn, or the gift of his kind and thoughtful words for those who needed them.

Dad was also stubborn, and while that word sometimes comes with a negative association, for Donald Eugene Jerome, his headstrong and determined personality is what led him to achieve more than most people. He always believed you could achieve whatever it was you wanted to achieve, and what mattered was not where you came from or what you have done before, but where you would go and what you would do. And he never gave up. Rather than let obstacles in his way stop him from what he wanted, he simply found a way to work through them. He grew up in poverty, yet put himself through college to receive his degree. Rather than let infertility rob him of fatherhood, he adopted two children. He refused to allow health issues and physical disabilities prevent him from living a full life. By my age, he had lived in South America, all throughout the United States, and traveled to Mexico and Canada. In his retirement years, he fulfilled a long lived dream of seeing Rome and the Vatican.

Dad was happiest when he was with his family, and his greatest joys in his life were his seven grandchildren: Amethyst, Luke, Tyler, Autumn, Cody, Benjamin and Sawyer.

But if I had to choose one word to define my father, it would be faith. Not once, despite losing siblings and both his parents, despite having physical handicaps and declining health, did my father ever ask God “why?”  He simply would take a deep breath and ask God for the strength to make it through whatever he was faced with. When I would face my own struggles, Dad would remind me of the Serenity Prayer and tell me that if God brings us to it, He’ll bring us through it.

People often say how they wish they’ll pass on. Dad got his wish: his two children with him during his final days. He was right with God. He had said the words he’d wished to say to those he loved. And as he’d wished for, he went home to heaven peacefully in his sleep.

My father achieved much in his time on earth: A successful career, a family, service to those less unfortunate. But above everything else, he died a man wealthy in what was the most important gift and blessing he’d ever wanted: The love of his family.

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Forty Balloons

It was sunny on July 14, 1982. That I remember clearly. And what I always remember, what I’ll never forget, is that on that on that eve, my father’s fortieth birthday, he came home with forty black balloons from work.

My father hated balloons.

And when I say hate, that’s an understatement. The screech they made when you ran your finger over them. The squeak they emitted when they moved against one another. How if you expanded them too much with your breath (or helium), you risked the chance of them exploding. And the annoyance that if you barely let your grip go at the wrong moment, all the expelled breath you had put into them would be wasted as they zerberted their way into the sky, only to fall to the ground deflated.

But on that day, my father’s coworkers threw an over the hill party for my father.

The fact that he came home with all forty balloons rather than letting them go or leaving them in his office at Fleming Corporation in Oklahoma City until they deflated and could be tossed out spoke volumes about who he was as a person. What he did after he parked his car in our drive way and stepped out, his gait hitched from an artificial hip, said even more.

I greeted my father with open arms and excitement, because it was his birthday, and I’d decorated a cake to celebrate and I was excited. And after he hugged me and asked about my day, he stepped to the trunk of his car and inserted his key (remember cars that actually needed a key inserted into the lock???). And like magic, forty black balloons popped out. A friend from down the street had been up to play, and she and I watched with wide eyes in pure amazement as balloon after balloon appeared.

Dad closed the trunk of his car, and counted twenty balloons out carefully, which he handed to my friend. The other twenty, he handed to me and warned us both with a wink about being carried off by the helium.

Dad hated balloons, yet he brought them home to his five year old daughter. And upon seeing her friend, he divided them in half so she wouldn’t feel left out.

It was just one of many times he put himself on the back burner for the sake of others. It was just one of many examples of which I have to draw on what it means to give to others.

I’ve felt a strong absence since my father’s passing last July. And certainly, his birthday is a date I’ll always remember, most especially his last birthday, the day he took the fall that ultimately led to the end of his life on this earth.

A few months ago, a new friend and I got into a conversation about my father, and he asked how old I was when he passed. When I said thirty-seven, my friend told me he was only twenty-two when he lost his father, and thank God I got the time I had with my father. And like many other people, he warned me the loss would crop up when I expected it and when I least expected it. And he was right: there’s an ache when my children do something I’d normally call my father to tell him about, there’s an ache when I achieve something I’d share with him, there’s an ache I can no longer call him to annoy him about how he’s feeling or drop into his room to sit with him. There’s an ache that the house I hated is no longer a house I can go into. There’s an ache he won’t get a seventy-third birthday. That there won’t be seventy-three black balloons, a bacon cheese burger from sonic to share, a mock cupcake made out of meatloaf and mashed potatoes I’ll trick him into eating thinking its cake and he’ll bitch about it. There’s no more expired food to tease him about, no more debates about the philosophy of life, no more eye rolling about my latest tattoo and my newest hair color. I’ll never again watch him pull my oldest into his arms while he asks her to tell him about life.

There’s an ache instead.

And I don’t want the ache gone. Because if the ache were gone? That would mean that the parent I had who fought tooth and nail for my life, who put me first, who loved me unconditionally, who taught me right from wrong, who taught me that the true gift is in the giving, who taught me to go after what I want balls to the wall didn’t exist. If it didn’t hurt, it would mean I had been less loved, less cared for in my formative years. It would mean I hadn’t had the experience of a father who had no problem telling my softball coach he was full of shit and hadn’t had the gift of a father who would well up with tears when I would play “Memories” on the piano. It would mean I never would have had the experience of being told repeatedly that someone always had it worse. It would mean I wouldn’t have had the blessing of a father who worked late into the night and went in before the sun rose to work to sit with me in the hospital at age fifteen to keep me from feeling less isolated. It would mean I wouldn’t have had the knowledge that money doesn’t matter but your heart does.

And as much as this ache hurts, as much as I wish it were a year ago when my father still drew breath enough to ride my ass about getting back into college, I’m grateful for it. And as much as I would give my own life to avoid my own childrens’ pain in any way shape or form, I hope one day my children experience this type of loss and this type of ache.

Because I’ll have been the right type of parent.

Happy Birthday Daddy. I love you.

Amber Maria.

No Expiration Date

Years ago, someone once said to me something that has long stuck with me: “There is no expiration date on grief.”

And while I thought I had a grasp on what they meant, it wasn’t until recently I truly understood the meaning behind those seven words.

You see, my life has been tumultuous. There’s been loved ones lost to cancer, heart disease, depression. I’ve lost loved ones due to changes in our lives. I’ve lost loved ones due to one of the genres I write. The always present end of relationships due to waning interest. Relationships and experiences draw to a close, either abruptly or naturally.

And despite the times when loss equated me wondering how I’d draw my next breath, the strangest thing happened: the sun rose and set each day. Friends went on with their lives. Strangers laughed over whatever had hit their tickle bone. All those things continued on, despite my shattered heart.

Grief is unlike surgery. A surgeon can perform an operation and state the range of time it should take to heal, the range of time until you feel normal. Grief? Grief is something we can’t determine the length of time on. It’s over and eased and we look back in gratitude that its over. And then something happens: you see a type of flower, you hear something, you come across a photo, and it’s back, just as fresh as it was when it first happened. There’s no way to ease it, erase it, or speed up the process. You simply have to grit your teeth and endure.

The largest mistakes of my life have been healing on other people’s time lines, of putting their ideas of when I should be healed and over something above my need to experience my own grief process. And finally, at age thirty-eight, I’ve learned an exceptionally important lesson that I should have learned a long time before: my heart break is my heart break, and the healing process is mine. However I go about it, it’s a process I need to experience for myself. Because healing on other’s timelines and for other’s comfort isn’t healing for myself.

I own my hurt and heartbreak for my losses in this life. And I demand of others the respect to do so on my terms.

Love and life,

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

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